Schools reopen today amid confusion over whether learning will take place or not.
Some of the issues clouding the start of the third term of the school year, when candidates sit their national exams, include the threat of a teachers' strike, undelivered text books and concerns about delays in disbursing free education cash to schools.
Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Secretary General Wilson Sossion was yesterday unrelenting on his September 1 work boycott threat that could negatively affect millions of exam candidates.
Mr Sossion said it was "public knowledge" what action teachers intended to take following a fruitless meeting with the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) last week.
“We've made it very clear there are things we are intending to do,” said Sossion, making a thinly veiled threat that teachers intend to stay away from the classrooms.
But Knut appeared isolated in its calls for a strike as TSC bosses, officials of a rival union and representatives of head teachers said they expected schools to reopen and learning to continue smoothly as teachers' grievances were addressed.
Following last Friday's talks with TSC, Kenya Union of Post Primary Teachers (Kuppet) Secretary General Akelo Misori said the union was opposed to the strike. Kuppet questioned whether Knut had followed the proper legal procedure.
"Has Knut given notice for the strike to the Ministry of Labour? We are not party to this," he said.
Yesterday, TSC gave assurances of a smooth third term, saying it had "comfortably engaged" with all stakeholders, including Knut, on issues including a collective bargaining agreement, and would implement them as agreed.
“We have engaged with key stakeholders, including the unions, and are addressing whatever concerns they had. We agreed to a five-day retreat with Knut to intensively engage with the issues they raised with a view to arriving at an amicable solution to issues they raised,” said TSC Head of Communications Kihumba Kamotho.
Mr Kamotho added that exam invigilators and supervisors had already been identified.
Last week, Knut held day-long talks with TSC on mass transfers of head teachers under the delocalisation policy, delayed teacher promotions and withdrawal of the controversial Teacher Performance and Appraisal Development (TPAD) and Performance Contracting (PC) initiatives.
The parties agreed to hold a retreat between September 30 and October 5 for further discussions but Sossion's declaration yesterday, coupled with new demands by Kuppet for higher allowances, have put the talks in doubt.
Although Kuppet is against the boycott, it has complicated talks with TSC by presenting a demand for higher pay for teachers to reflect the rising cost of living.
“Transport cost has increased beyond the commuter allowance negotiated due to increase of fuel and general overall transport costs,” read the document presented by Kuppet to TSC last week.
Kuppet largely represents teachers in secondary and tertiary institutions.
Knut has also directed members not to sign performance appraisals this term, a position at odds with TSC, which has insisted the assessment is mandatory.
"Knut stresses that all teachers in the public service should not entertain TPAD/PC or any policy that will undermine or demean the teaching profession," the union said in a statement.
Last week, TSC also met with Kuppet, the Kenya Primary School Heads Association (Kepsha) and Kenya Secondary School Heads Association (Kepsha) to discuss key issues.
Yesterday, Kepsha chairman Shem Ndolo told The Standard that schools would open tomorrow, with the major contentious issues being undelivered books for standards 4, 5 and 6, and whether free primary education (FPE) cash would be disbursed in time.
“We expect Government to unveil books for standards 4, 5 and 6 because the books for 7 and 8 are already there. We also expect FPE will go on without any hitches,” said Mr Ndolo.
He however said that primary school heads were not against being assessed but only took issue with the nature of the process.
“We are taking care of people’s children and ours too,” said Ndolo, adding that Kepsha's meeting with TSC dwelt on performance appraisal grievances.
Parents also weighed in on the matter, calling for hasty negotiations between the Government and teachers.
National Parents Association chairman Nicholas Maiyo said the impending impasse would infringe on children’s rights and consequently affect exam performance.
“I know that they (teachers) are fighting for their rights but we also have to see that we don’t interfere and inconvenience the lives of our children,” he said.